Take a look here for some brief descriptions of the Buddhist holidays and rites.
Mahaparinirvana The festival commemorating the passing of the Buddha into enlightenment upon his death. In Mahayana countries like Japan, Mahaparinirvana is celebrated on the same day every year February 15. In Zen Buddhist temples, lights in the meditation hall are extinguished. The congregation then meditates and chants Buddhist scriptures before the lamps are relit, expressing the hope that the teachings of the Buddha will endure for all time.
Higan Celebrated in Japan at the spring and autumn equinoxes. These are regarded as special times of transition, marking not only seasonal changes but the transition from samsara (illusion) to nirvana (enlightenment). Remembrance of the dead is a particularly important part of these occasions.
Vaisakhapuja or Vesak In Theravadin countries, like Sri Lanka or those in Southeast Asia, the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha are all celebrated on this holiday, which takes place on variable dates in May. It is a time when people try especially hard to live up to the Buddha's teaching, practicing kindness and generosity. Vaisakhapuja is an occasion of great festivity, marked by much color and gaiety. Homes are cleaned and decorated for the occasion. People visit temples and make offerings, while statues of the Buddha are washed with scented water.
Rains Retreat The Rains Retreat begins on the full moon of July and extends into October and is observed in all Theravadin countries. It is when monks enter the seclusion of monasteries to spend time in contemplation. In Thailand, the Rains Retreat is begun with the Rocket Festival. At this season the rice plants are young and fragile, and the rockets are offered to village guardian spirits as a means of ensuring a good crop.
Kathina The Rains Retreat ends with the full moon of October. It is marked with Kathina or Kathin, the Festival of Robes, at which lay people present monks with new robes. In Thailand, on the first day of the festival, gifts for monks are laid on an elaborate wooden palanquin, which is said to symbolize hopes for rebirth in heaven. Carved serpents on the roof represent the Buddha's conquest of desire, and pincushions hung from the four corners symbolize hopes for rebirth with sharpness of mind. The next day the gifts are distributed in a rich procession, concluding with the distribution of the garments. Kathina is the only holiday enjoined in the earliest Buddhist scriptures.
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